World War I in Lawrence: Community reacts to start of war

“One subject and one only is now a topic of conversation in Lawrence.”

On April 6, 1917, whistles were sounded in Lawrence to alert residents to the long-expected news: At 1:11 p.m., President Woodrow Wilson had signed a congressional resolution declaring a state of war between the United States and Germany, signaling the entry of the U.S. into what had been, up until then, referred to as the “European war.” The Journal-World reported, “Along the street little groups formed here and there on Massachusetts street.” After rushing to their telephones to get more details from the newspaper and from one another, Lawrence folks gathered downtown, opening conversation with, “It has come at last.”

The community had been aware of the conflict since its beginning, and some young men and women were already involved, having been overseas when it started. Other Lawrence citizens, traveling abroad for study or pleasure, experienced some difficulty returning home after submarine attacks increased.

On the home front, there had been mixed feelings as the war grew more intense and U.S. involvement appeared more certain. While two or three hundred people reportedly gathered to hear a speaker air his views on the topic, “War, What For?” at the “Friends church,” others were eager to fight, including boys in their early teens who flocked to the armory requesting to be drilled in “the rudiments of soldiering.”

On April 6, as war became a certainty and Lawrence residents gathered on Mass Street to discuss the news, “Mothers of stalwart sons shed tears and father longed for youth again.” In future columns, watch for more news on the effect of the “Great War” on our community.